The Clise Challenge: a great chance for public enhancements

One of the most exciting real estate opportunities in the nation has just come on the market north of Seattle's downtown, parts of 13 blocks owned by the Clise family. What might the public want in the way of new amenities? We put the question to some experts, and to you.
Crosscut archive image.

The open plaza in Lucca, Italy, might inspire developers of the 13-acre Clise property in Seattle

One of the most exciting real estate opportunities in the nation has just come on the market north of Seattle's downtown, parts of 13 blocks owned by the Clise family. What might the public want in the way of new amenities? We put the question to some experts, and to you.

Cities are planning grandly these days, so much that there's a new term for it: Big Urbanism. Atlanta, for instance, has purchased a quarry for a 300-acre park with a big belt-line corridor of trails. New York City has huge projects on the boards in Yonkers and the Atlantic Yards. Vancouver, thanks to access to large parcels left over from railroad yards and Expo, is the closest example of development on a large, unified-design scale. But just about the biggest piece of land for sale in any downtown is in Seattle. That would be the 13-acre parcel put on the market early this summer by the Clise family and spread over seven full blocks and six partial blocks. The property consists today of parking lots and low-lying buildings, reflecting the family's penchant to hold onto property rather than develop it. It is bounded by Westlake, Fifth, and Denny, forming a pie-shaped triangle. The City recently upzoned the area, hoping it would stimulate development, and was surprised when the Clises instead decided to sell. According to a New York Times story this week, owner Al Clise has fielded 69 requests for tours of the land, lying just north of downtown Seattle. Deadline for offers is October. The Clises, a family with deep roots in Seattle and lots of land in the Denny Regrade, say they are looking for a buyer with a grand vision for the property, which might fetch $1 billion. It might accommodate 13 million square feet, and its zoning, recently upgraded by the City to try to get the reluctant Clise to develop the underused land, allows for offices, condominiums, hotels, commercial, retail, and rental apartments. The property, rare for any downtown American city, is expected to draw the interest of major international developers, who might bring very high design standards to the project. It's also a huge opportunity for public, urbanistic benefits. Beyond the zoning incentives for low income housing and open space already in place, the City might offer various carrots to induce the developer to add some missing public pieces to the downtown fabric. The standard list would be affordable housing, a downtown school to induce more families to live downtown, a community center with recreational courts and gyms, a library branch, and more open space. In an effort to get the public discussion going, Crosscut asked several people to produce their wish list. Here's a sampling, and feel free to make comments and add your ideas. There will probably never be such a huge opportunity again for Seattle. From Gordon Bowker, co-founder of Starbucks: Replat the streets, providing the developer the benefit of larger blocks. The streets become narrower and the retail more pedestrian friendly. In exchange for the larger blocks, the alleys are increased from two to four, bisecting each other. This might be done either parallel and perpendicular to the main streets, or by creating "X"-shaped blocks, with one-way alleys. Or perhaps alleys created only for emergency and delivery vehicles at certain hours. This could be broken up by a central square or oval (like the one in Lucca, Italy) which would become a natural gathering place for the new community. From Bruce Chapman, former Seattle City Councilmember: A large resort complex, including spas, big indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, gardens, etc. It will transform the appeal of Seattle for many visitors. We have a great urban resort location, but nothing really geared to resort visitors, such as the Grand American Hotel in Salt Lake City. I would also like to see us develop something like the Viennese wine garden, which could be combined with a beer garden, where you have coziness in winter and outdoor enclosed dining in summer, and always music. We should also have some walkable shopping spaces that are not just national mall stores but interesting, personal, boutique-size shops selling music, specialty books, clocks, art, woodcraft furniture, real delicatessen items, etc. We have a great many interesting and unusual shops in the city, but not collected in any density anywhere. (There's a district in Munich like this.) The streets should be outstanding examples of street design in paving, benches, plantings, lighting, etc. From Doug Raff, chair of the board of Harbor Properties: First be certain the development is pedestrian friendly: wide sidewalks, walk-through pedestrian ways and green connections mid-block, active uses on the street fronts. Next, some pocket parks, with perhaps one larger than pocket-size, designed for the residents of the area. One could be a playground, another a green pocket with a fountain and lots of places to sit, another a community garden, and yet another a place for flowers designed more for strolling and admiring than for sitting. These parks should not reduce the density but make more room for vistas and breathing spaces, and bonuses should be given for dedicating spcae for them. From Larry Rouch, architectural writer, teacher, and builder: Take a cue from Holland, in the process of planning for 10 million housing units. After the government acquires tracts of land, it invites architec/developer/contractor teams to submit complete schemes, with bids for construction and long-term maintenance for the development. The programs include a full mixture of housing types, from single story to mid-rise, intermingled. One criteria for winning one of the contracts is design excellence, which attracts Holland's most notable architects. One project will typically have three or four of the country's finest architects designing different portions of the development. Let's use the Clise property to allow a grand experiment in truly progressive social, environmental, and architectural excellence along the lines of the Dutch model. From Matt Griffin, developer and consultant: When the owner applies for the necessary permits, which I would expect to be block by block, the City should require responsible development with great pedestrian streets. If the City wants a big park, a closed transaction should give the City the market price, and the City should buy that parcel. From a few folks who do not wish to be named: Create an arts zone, rather like that around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with emphasis on dance studios, rehearsal space, and other places that are generating art, not just displaying it. Create two or three London Squares, perhaps using Denny Park, immediately to the north, as one of them. London Squares are small (a block or less), lined with buildings of modest height, permit traffic to circle the perimeter, and are an amenity for those living nearby as well as the general public. A large, multiblock park, along the lines of Chicago's Millennium Park, with significant contributions, including for maintenance and safety, by the developer and nearby residents. This would help create a "Parks District," with linkages to Olympic Sculpture Park, Lake Union Park, and Seattle Center. Denny Park might be included in the new park. Feel inspired? Make your suggestions and modifications known in the Comments section below.


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